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Hiaasen nightmare: Disney devours the world

Web posted on: Friday, May 29, 1998 3:30:29 PM

From CNN Interactive Writer Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Sometimes it's downright frustrating to be Carl Hiaasen. The best-selling author and award-winning reporter longs to be eternally banned from Disney World in Orlando -- or Disney, anywhere -- but the folks behind Mickey Mouse are just so darn nice and good and wholesome, they won't give him the pleasure.

And Disney's niceness and goodness and wholesomeness are among the things that bother Hiaasen the most.

His latest book, released as tourists across the country ready for a summer trek to theme parks, takes dead aim at everything Disney. "Team Rodent" is a "rant" that depicts America's most popular entertainment monolith as a beast that will one day "devour the world ... parents, politicians, press. Especially the press. We're all suckers for a good cartoon."

Hiaasen
Hiaasen

Mickey is 'creepy'?

So what makes Hiaasen dislike Disney so much?

One reason: control. Disney controls its image to the obsessive point of failing to be real, Hiaasen says. When controversies arise, Hiaasen says Disney clams up. When Disney sees a chance to spread its wholesome image, Mickey and Co. smile into the cameras.

"It just gets kinda creepy, it's so orderly and efficient and insulated from the real world," Hiaasen says. "At some point the human soul calls for surprise or something that is real.

"It's something to be a little alarmed about," Hiaasen says of the Orlando operations in his home state. "It's not just a little theme park anymore. It's now an ethic and outlook and strategy that goes way beyond central Florida."

And another thing ...

Which leads to another Hiaasen beef with Disney -- it's so big and powerful, we ought to be alarmed.

Hiaasen claims Disney touches virtually every American for profit, bringing in money from a host of companies, including Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Miramax, and Hollywood Pictures, ABC, ESPN, the History Channel, Lifetime -- even Siskel and Ebert. That's not to mention all the toys, retail stores, housing developments, newspapers and, soon, a cruise line.

And all those people that are being touched by Disney magic are also being influenced to lean towards the middle of the road of life, Hiaasen argues.

"The message (of Disney), never stated but avuncularly implied, is that America's values ought to reflect those of Disney World, and not the other way around," Hiaasen writes. In other words, Disney wants its customers to be predictable, and anyone familiar with Carl Hiaasen knows that the last thing he wants is to be is a number in a marketer's study.

'A relentlessly sane voice'

Hiaasen's writing style has earned him a unique place in contemporary entertainment. With best-selling crime-mystery novels like "Tourist Season" and "Lucky You" -- stories that often mix the representatives of large institutions with the backwater harshness of Florida environs -- he has revealed a black-humored voice that critics have raved about.

His work has also been translated to the silver screen with the Demi Moore flick "Striptease."

Dave Barry, his colleague at the Miami Herald, has described Hiaasen as "one of South Florida's most vital natural resources, a relentlessly sane voice in a howling hurricane of hypocrisy, hokum and hype."

When Hiaasen isn't penning novels, he writes a column in the Herald, criticizing the sleaze and corruption he believes is ruining his home state (Disney is a common subject).

Fans will be interested to know that Hiaasen says this latest venture into nonfiction approaches writing from a different angle. But loyal readers of his fiction will be pulled in.

"I think once they get into it and read it, they'll plug right in to it," Hiaasen says. "It's not fiction. It's the real thing. The message and underlying theme are serious. There are parts of this book that are downright disturbing."

Disney, disturbing?

CNN called Disney and asked for a comment on the Hiaasen's book. John Dreyer, spokesperson for Disney, certainly didn't run for cover.

"I think (Hiaasen) worked on (the book) about a day," Dreyer said. "It really is like leftovers that have been heated up for a third time. He's continuing his fiction here."

What about Hiaasen's argument that Disney is too center-of-the-road?

"I guess if he were a master developer, his ideal community would have a brothel, a drug dealer and a porn shop," Dreyer says. "I really think you ought to warn your readers to the fact that (the book) costs $9 and takes 20 minutes to read."

So, judging by this reaction, does this mean Disney will grant Hiaasen his fondest wish upon a star -- ban him from Disney for eternity?

Not so fast.

"He will never be banned. We welcome him," Dreyer says. "I think he's afraid he would come here and have a good time. We'd even make him and his family grand marshals of a parade."

Really?

"Yes, absolutely."

Sometimes it's downright frustrating to be Carl Hiaasen.


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